In the deep ocean
trenches live colonies of amazing animals beside ‘smokers’ –
hydrothermal vents that belch out hot water and nutrients. In principle
I would love to see the giant clams, and white two-metre-long tube worms
with waving red plumes, but there is a problem. Fear.
Two miles down,
the water pressure is 300 times atmospheric pressure – enough to squash
you flat if you were exposed to it. I have met two brave women
scientists who have been down there, in a tiny sphere made of titanium,
which is exceedingly strong, but I tremble at the thought of that much
pressure. In the Science Shack series last year I occupied an
‘aquashack’ made from a couple of rubbish
skips, one upside down and welded to the other. This elegant residence
was dumped on the bottom of a pool three metres deep, which was plenty
deep enough for me.
Building the Ultimate (Tuesdays at 9 on BBC2) includes helicopters,
suspension bridges, and spacecraft, but it kicks off with submarines,
the dare-devils of the deep.
The first ever
submarine was made in London by Cornelius Drebbel, around 1620. He
showed it off to King James I, who wisely declined a ride inside. The
craft was essentially two rowing boats, one turned upside-down and
sealed on top of the other, like a wooden version of my aquashack.
Allegedly they rowed it from Westminster to Greenwich and back under
water in three hours, which I find hard to believe.
propeller-driven sub was built during the American Civil War, and in
1879 an Irish rogue called George William Garrett built a steam-powered
submarine, and launched her from Birkenhead. Unfortunately she ran into
bad weather and sank, near Rhyl in North Wales. She was called Resurgam,
which is Latin for ‘I will come up again’, but she never did. Indeed she
still lies ten fathoms down off the Welsh coast.
I do not believe
I should enjoy the claustrophobia of a submarine, nor the idea of
springing a leak. And experienced submariners tell me that the
lavatories, which use a suction system like those on aircraft, can go
wrong when they are put under positive pressure to offload the
accumulated sewage; if someone is rash enough to use the heads at the
wrong moment, the entire sub fills instantly with malodorous brown fog.